Mountain bike: Pauline Ferrand-Prévot, the history maker

With her sprint-finish win in Haderslev, Denmark, Pauline Ferrand-Prévot celebrated a unique achievement: she added the mountain bike cross-country marathon (XCM) UCI World Champion title to her rainbow jerseys for cross-country Olympic (XCO) and cross-country short track (XCC). She is the first person to achieve this feat.

The three UCI titles were all claimed within three weeks – between 26 August and 11 September –, the result of a season of dedicated preparation, and more than a decade after the Frenchwoman first impressed.

In the 20-year history of the UCI Cross-country Marathon World Championships, a number of riders have earned the rainbow stripes in both XCM and XCO, starting with Gunn-Rita Dahle Flesjå (NOR), in 2004, in 2005 and 2006.

Other big names have also won both titles, but not in the same year: Thomas Frischknecht (SUI), Christoph Sauser (SUI), Jaroslav Kulhavý (CZE), Maja Włoszczowska (POL), Sabine Spitz (GER) and Annika Langvad (DEN).

What puts Ferrand-Prévot’s latest achievement in context, even compared to the legendary Dahle Flesjå, is that XCO and XCM both require endurance characteristics, but XCC is different. It’s incredible to find a rider who is the best in the world in a 20-minute race, and one lasting more than four hours!

Setting the tone early

Having come from a cycling family – Ferrand-Prévot’s parents ran a bike school in Reims, her uncle Ludovic Dubau was 1994 French XCO Champion, and her siblings both raced – a life on two wheels was guaranteed. She set the tone for her future success in the Junior ranks on the road as well as in mountain bike.

In 2009, aged 17, Pauline won the Junior European individual time trial (ITT) title, came third in the road race, and won the European XCO championships within a month. The same year she was Junior National Champion in the road race and ITT, won the Junior XCO UCI World title and took UCI World Championships silver medals in the road race and TT.

The next year, she retained her national titles on the road, raced among the Elite in cyclo-cross, and won her first Junior XCO race at the UCI Mountain Bike World Cup. She claimed the Junior UCI World title in the road race, took silver in the ITT, and retained the Junior XCO UCI World title, becoming only the second rider in history (after Great Britain’s Nicole Cooke) to win both road and XCO Junior rainbow jerseys in the same year.

Yet this was merely a precursor to Ferrand-Prévot’s most famous achievement. In 2014-5, aged 23 she became the first person ever to simultaneously hold UCI Elite UCI World titles in road, cyclo-cross and mountain bike. Even with today’s cross-discipline stars, it’s never been matched.

Since then, competing professionally on the road was a focus, but the cross-discipline challenge remained. In cyclo-cross, she was three-time French Champion (7 podiums in 9 years), National Champion twice on the road, and four times in XCO (with a further 4 podiums in 10 years).

Focus on mountain bike

Vallnord - Pal Arinsal 2015 in Andorra was the first of four XCO UCI World titles (so far!), starting a period that saw Ferrand-Prévot also claim three consecutive rainbow jerseys with her fellow French riders in the mixed team relay.

After being side-lined while recovering from surgery early in 2019, Ferrand-Prévot returned to take her second XCO UCI Worlds gold in Mont-Sainte-Anne, Canada, with an astonishing comeback. She defended her title in 2020. Regaining that title from Great Britain’s Evie Richards was 2022’s primary goal.

How 2022 played out

To hit perfect form at the right time took some managing. Early season longer-distance capacity was tested with 3rd place at March’s Absa Cape Epic stage race in South Africa. April delivered an XCC victory in the first round of the Mercedes-Benz UCI Mountain Bike World Cup in Petropolis, Brazil. In June’s National Championships Pauline Ferrand Prévot finished 2nd in the XCM behind Léna Gérault. Days later it was silver again in the XCO (behind 2021 UCI World Cup overall leader Loana Lecomte), then victory in the XCC.

As the year’s major targets were in late August and September, a strategic approach was taken. She sat out the USA and Canadian rounds of the UCI World Cup in favour of training and focus. Pauline attacked the European Championships, where a mechanical issue saw her relinquish her lead to Lecomte.

It perfectly set up the week of the UCI Mountain Bike World Championships in Les Gets, France. 2022 was only the second year that an XCC UCI World title was at stake. On home soil it was the ideal opportunity to show the form that had seen her win the XCC National title and first UCI World Cup round. It went like clockwork.

Two days later, came the central focus of the season, the XCO race of the UCI Mountain Bike World Championships. She attacked relentlessly, pushing on to finish 1’35” ahead of Olympic Champion Jolanda Neff (SUI).

“I wanted to go straight from the start and go full gas and secure a gap,” she said.

If anyone imagined the season couldn’t get any better… it could, and it did. After taking the final 2022 XCO UCI World Cup win in Val di Sole, Italy, it was off to Denmark for the UCI Mountain Bike Marathon World Championships. A fast race saw a final selection emerge in the last 20km. From it, Ferrand-Prévot set up the sprint and won comfortably to claim her third rainbow jersey in three weeks.

“So happy for this last month's campaign. It may seem easy on the day, but the journey to that day takes plenty of hard work, discipline and sacrifices.”

With that, Pauline Ferrand-Prévot made more cycling history, and she’s not finished yet.